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Kick Your Email Habit to Dramnatically Reduce Your Stress

If you’re anything like me, you compulsively check your email, always anticipating a new task from your boss or some juicy gossip from a friend. I probably click the “refresh” button one hundred times per day, and I’m not the only one - one in five Americans say checking their email is the first thing they do when they wake up or the last thing they do before going to bed, while 72 percent of us still check our email on sick days and vacations. Studies suggest we get a serotonin (the “happy hormone”) boost when something new pops up in our inbox, but if compulsively checking your inbox is burning you out, take heart - research from the University of British Columbia suggests that checking your email less often can ease psychological stress. 

The study took 124 adults and instructed half of them to check their email only three times daily for one week, while the other group was instructed to check their email as often as they could. Then the two groups switched roles for another week. The participants also answered brief daily surveys, including information about their stress levels.

The researchers found that people were less stressed when they check their email less often, even though most participants in the study said they’d found it difficult to check their email only three times a day and had to fight to resist the temptation. 

Kostadin Kushlev, the lead author of the study, said, “this is what makes our obvious-in-hindsight findings so striking: People find it difficult to resist the temptation of checking email, and yet resisting this temptation reduces their stress."

He says that employers can help employees reduce their stress levels by suggesting that they check their email only a few times per day, responding to incoming emails in chunks. If you can’t afford to delay on important emails (from your boss, for example) most email clients will allow you to set up alerts for when someone important emails you. 

There are other good reasons to kick your email habit and spend more time actually talking with coworkers, clients or friends: emails are easily misinterpreted, while face-to-face and phone conversations make it easier to communicate your true intentions. Try a week without hitting the “send” button and try not to refresh your inbox too often - you might yourself more relaxed and less stressed at the end of your experiment. 

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